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Iraqi Interior Minister on Policing a War Zone

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie, in Washington.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in Baghdad.

We're reporting this week on law enforcement in a country where it's often hard to tell which side people are on. That question came up as we went to an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.

It's the home of Falah al-Nakib, a former Interior Minister who directed thousands of police. Last year, after Nakib left his job, some of those police were discovered running a secret detention center near his house.

Mr. FALAH AL-NAKIB (Former Iraq Interior Minister): Just across the street.

INSKEEP: It's just across the street from you here?

Mr. NAKIB: Yeah!

INSKEEP: Falah al-Nakib welcomed us into his home, as did his bodyguards and a boy in knee pants. His son is three and a half, just a little older than the war. He can't play outside for his own safety.

(Soundbite of child)

INSKEEP: What've you got there? What do you have there?

Mr. NAKIB: (Foreign spoken)

CHILD: (Foreign spoken)

Mr. NAKIB: Okay.

INSKEEP: What did he say?

Mr. NAKIB: Flag.

INSKEEP: The boy waved an Iraqi flag, and he pushed up a chair to sit by his father as we spoke about Iraq's police.

Nakib is a Sunni Muslim, a former exile promoted into senior positions by the United States. He was Interior Minister until 2005, when a Shiite coalition came to power and replaced him. He was criticized for nepotism, and praised, for a time, for creating an anti-insurgence force known as Commandos.

Mr. NAKIB: At the time that the Ministry of Defense was very weak. It was just in its early stages. And we were in a race with the insurgents and those terrorists.

INSKEEP: A race with the insurgents?

Mr. NAKIB: Yeah. I mean, who will gain control. My solution is to bring the ex-Iraqi army, ex-commanders, special forces, and make them special units within the Ministry of Interior force.

INSKEEP: Its your uncle who became the commander?

Mr. NAKIB: Yes. Yes. General Adnan Atavit(ph). Yes. When you start the job, you need somebody you trust, you depend on. And we start to form this unit quickly, and they did a good job in Fallujah. They did a good job in Aramadi(ph), Mosul. But, you know, things later on changed after we...

INSKEEP: What changed?

Mr. NAKIB: You know, mainly those officers, they obey orders. It's highly dependent on the political leadership. So...

INSKEEP: So the leadership was changed. There was an election.

Mr. NAKIB: Yes.

INSKEEP: You no longer were the Minister. A new Minister and a leadership came in.

Mr. NAKIB: Yeah. So it was different directions, I believe. What happens now, they are, you know, they are mixed with militia, doing things they shouldn't do it.

INSKEEP: You remain very close to leaders of the Commando units that you helped to found.

Mr. NAKIB: Not very close. Not all of them. Some of them come to see me from time to time.

INSKEEP: Are the Commandos, which have been renamed National Police, acting in accordance with Iraqi law and with international law?

Mr. NAKIB: No.

INSKEEP: No?

Mr. NAKIB: Now? No.

INSKEEP: What are they doing?

Mr. NAKIB: I don't know. They get directions from the leadership, the political leadership, and they do what the political leadership tell them to do.

INSKEEP: Are they involved with some of the secret prisons?

Mr. NAKIB: Yes, maybe.

INSKEEP: Are they involved in torture?

Mr. NAKIB: I think somehow, yes, yes. Not all of them acting the same way. Because some of them belong to certain political group or militias now. And even their commanders don't know what these units they are doing.

INSKEEP: You think that maybe that the commanders don't know what a portion of the...

Mr. NAKIB: Some of the senior commanders, they don't know everything of what's going on.

INSKEEP: When you hear the multiple reports of people in police uniforms arriving in neighborhoods, killing people or taking away people who are never seen again, or later found dead, are you confident that those really are police officers committing those crimes?

Mr. NAKIB: Not all of them.

INSKEEP: Not all of them?

Mr. NAKIB: Not all of them.

INSKEEP: Some of them...

Mr. NAKIB: Some of them it is in their militias and have police uniforms.

INSKEEP: Who have bought police uniforms as you can easily do on the streets here.

Mr. NAKIB: Yeah, or maybe, you know, the Commandos, they were more under control than they were before. It's not finished 100 percent, but it is better. Because now they're forbidden that a brigade commander (unintelligible). Before they had.

INSKEEP: We're hearing a little gunfire outside. I assume that's normal.

Mr. NAKIB: I know. That is normal.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

Mr. NAKIB: It's normal. Somebody celebrating a wedding maybe.

INSKEEP: When we finished speaking with former Interior Minister Falah al-Nakib, he offered to send a carload of gunmen to escort us home. That's what passes for security in Iraq, even for a man who was once in charge of security.

Earlier today in Baghdad, we spoke to the current Interior Minister, who says one of his police chiefs was just arrested as part of a kidnapping ring. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.